College Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Chargers, Rams struggle to find home-field advantage

A friend of mine tweeted from Dignity Health Sports Park Oct. 13 before the start of the Los Angeles Chargers game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The picture showed a sea of black and gold Steelers jerseys in the crowd with an occasional blue and yellow Chargers jersey.

As usual, the Chargers were playing an away game in their home stadium.

A few hours earlier, the Rams played the San Francisco 49ers at the Coliseum and were greeted by a sea of red as 49er fans made the short trek from San Francisco for the game.

Depending on the opponent, it’s a weekly occurrence for both local football teams.

And it makes me wonder what will happen next year when the two teams move into Sofi Stadium in Inglewood. Will real fans of the local teams show up for the games next year? Or will fans of whomever the Chargers or Rams are playing be able to get good deals from secondary ticket sites and make home-field advantage meaningless in the $2 billion stadium?

I know that a lot of people buying season tickets to Rams and Chargers games this year (and the last two seasons as well) are buying them to get in line for tickets to the new stadium. Many are turning around and reselling their seats to make their money back because they don’t like the Coliseum or the soccer stadium the Chargers call home.

But what will make that change next year, especially when the fans already know they will be spending more for seats in the new stadium?

I attended the Rams-Tampa Bay game a few weeks ago and was surprised how many Tampa Bay fans were in the Coliseum. Those Tampa Bay fans made a lot of noise when the Rams were staging a fourth-quarter comeback that fell short.

And the Rams have a stronger local fan base than the Chargers, by far.

Not many Chargers fans have followed their team up north for a variety of reasons, starting with ownership. The Spanos family never went out of their way to endear themselves to Chargers fans.

They don’t always put competitive teams on the field. They don’t like to pay the stars they create, as running back Melvin Gordon learned this summer and don’t go out of their way to recruit major stars that would make a difference on the field and at the box office.

Like many NFL owners, the Spanos family is more than happy to count its profits at the end of each season, regardless of how the team on the field. That turned the fans off in San Diego and when the Chargers headed north to Los Angeles, the people in San Diego went back to enjoying the weather on fall Sundays.

There are enough Rams fans left over from the pre-St. Louis days that the Rams’ problem filling their stadium isn’t as bad as the Chargers. For the Rams’ three home games this season, their average attendance is 71,757, which is 93.5% of capacity.

The Chargers stadium is about one-third the size of the Rams, so they manage to sell 94% of their seats, but the average attendance is only 25,373, the lowest by far in the league.

How many empty seats will there by in SoFi Stadium when the Chargers play there next year? We know the Raiders fans will try to fill the place one time during the year. Will anyone else?

Part of that depends on the product the Chargers put on the field. Right now, that product is not very exciting or proficient.

A team that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations, the Chargers are 2-4 after six weeks, tied with the Broncos for third in the AFC West. They play the 2-4 Tennessee Titans Oct. 20 in a game where the Titans plan to bench starting quarterback Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill.

After the Titans come the Bears on the road, the Packers at home, the Raiders in Oakland and the Chiefs at home before the Chargers bye week Nov. 24. The Chargers could be looking up at the rest of the division by then.

Like many NFL teams, the Chargers have been hurt by injuries this year. But no matter how you look at this season, the Chargers have been disappointing, and that isn’t going to grow the fan base.

The Rams also are a disappointment at .500 after losing to the 49ers, 20-7 Oct. 13.

Jared Goff threw for less than 100 yards and the Rams failed to score after their opening possession.

Head coach Sean McVay needs to start kicking field goals on fourth down instead of thinking his vaunted offense can convert fourth downs whenever it wants.

The Rams were 3-0 three weeks ago, but the defense has yielded 110 points in the last three games, Todd Gurley still hasn’t started running like Todd Gurley can and the rest of the team is out of sync.

Maybe there is something to be said for the Super Bowl hangover, a malady that seems to hit a team after it loses the Super Bowl.

The Rams play in Atlanta Oct. 20 followed by a home game against the Bengals and the bye week. After the bye comes the Steelers on the road followed by the Bears and the Ravens at home Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend. We’ll know what kind of team the Rams are after that night.

POST MORTEM NO. 1: Now that the Washington Nationals have swept the St. Louis Cardinals to advance to the World Series, you can say the Dodgers got beat by the hot team, which is a common factor in playoff series, especially three- or five-game series.

Yes, the Nationals are a good team. Since they righted the ship in May, they have the best overall record in the Major Leagues. Until they lost to the Nationals, the Dodgers had the second best record.

That said, the Dodgers lost for the same reason they always lose in the post-season: not enough clutch pitching or hitting.

The Dodgers struck out 64 times in the five games with the Nationals. That’s way too many.

Whether the Dodgers were pressing in the heat of the playoffs or just slumping at the wrong time is hard to say. Justin Turner hit, Matt Muncy hit, Russell Martin hit and David Freeze hit.

The rest of the lineup, not so much.

Pitching wise, the Dodgers stayed with the Nationals a lot better than the Cardinals did. Take away four home runs (Ryan Zimmerman’s three-run homer off Pedro Baez in game four, Anthony Rendon’s and Juan Soto’s off Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning of game five and the grand slam Howie Kendrick hit off Joe Kelly three inning later) and the Dodgers would have beat the Nationals.

Of course that’s a big takeaway and the Dodgers couldn’t hit against the Nationals in the clutch.

The Dodgers missed the energy of the injured Alex Verdugo in the playoffs. They have a new ace in Walker Buehler. Clayton Kershaw will start next season as their third or fourth best starting pitcher, which makes the rotation deeper. Kenta Maeda might make a better relief pitcher than he is a starter.

Their fans may be disappointed now, but the Dodgers will return as National League West champs next year.

POST MORTEM NO. 2: That was a game battle fought by the USC Trojans Oct. 12 against Notre Dame at South Bend, Indiana. The 30-27 loss could be counted as a moral victory if the Trojans didn’t need the win so badly.

Kedon Slovis was back after suffering a concussion and looked like a veteran instead of a freshman as he tried to will the Trojans back.

Unfortunately, the Trojans’ defense couldn’t get off the field after Slovis pulled the Trojans within 23-20 early in the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame took seven minutes off the clock for the winning touchdown and USC didn’t have enough time to close the gap.

The Trojans offense will be better the rest of the way because head coach Clay Helton has decided to give Markese Stepp the ball more now that Vavae Malepeai has undergone knee surgery. Stepp runs with power like no one at USC has run with since Lendale White left.

Stephen Carr also will get more carries.

Despite their 3-3 record, the Trojans control their destiny in the Pac 12 South. Win the next six games and they play for the conference title.